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Crime of the century: S. Africa’s $2mn art heist

Published time: November 13, 2012 12:58
Edited time: November 13, 2012 19:02
South African artist Irma Stern's 1931 "Fishing Boats" was among the five paintings stolen from the Pretoria Art Museum Sunday morning (Image from bloomberg.com)

South African artist Irma Stern's 1931 "Fishing Boats" was among the five paintings stolen from the Pretoria Art Museum Sunday morning (Image from bloomberg.com)

A collection of South African paintings stolen from a gallery in Pretoria have made up the biggest art heist in the country’s history. Paintings by South African artists have seen a ten fold increase in value in recent years.

Five paintings worth a combined $2 million have been taken from the Pretoria Art Museum. Three men posing as an art teacher and two students forced a security guard at gunpoint to help them locate and steal the art.

The paintings were stolen on Monday and include works by prominent South African artists Irma Stern, Gerard Sekoto, J.H. Pierneef, Maggie Laubser and Hugo Naude, a spokesman for the Mayor told Bloomberg.

According to reports the thieves seem to be not professionals and not very knowledgeable in art, as they’ve left the most expensive of the stolen paintings lying on the sidewalk when they’ve realized it couldn’t fit in their getaway car. It was Irma Stern’s “Two Malay Musicians,” a painting valued at around $1.4 million and the most valuable piece in the museum.

According to the mayor’s office the CCTV security system was out of action so the faces of the thieves were not caught on camera. 

The paintings were all owned by the municipality and were insured. Local authorities have already informed Interpol of the heist.